Some swim amid red flags and search for drowning victim

Southwest Michigan

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — South Beach in South Haven remained closed Monday after emergency crews rescued several people from Lake Michigan over the weekend and one person remained missing.

Around 3 p.m. Sunday, two men, ages 19 and 18, were reportedly in distress at a buoy in 3- to 5-foot waves, according to South Haven Area Emergency Services. A South Haven police officer and first responder spotted the 19-year-old at a buoy about 100 feet out and brought him to shore, authorities said. He said his 18-year-old friend tried to swim back to shore but went under and never resurfaced. Crews spent hours looking for him Sunday but suspended the search in the evening because conditions became too dangerous.

Divers went back into choppy water Monday, again with no luck. As the water calmed around nightfall, the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Office dive team gave it another shot. As of around 9:30 p.m., they had not found anything.

Throughout the day Monday, on the other side of the channel from closed South Beach, North Beach was open. Red flags were flying, warning of dangerous conditions, but some people were swimming anyway.

Many young children could be seen playing along the shore, a few of their parents telling News 8 they were from out of town and therefore were unaware of the lake’s dangers and recent drownings. 

“It’s our first time here… so I wasn’t even aware of the red flags until someone pointed it out,” parent Yeim Soto said.

Soto said he felt comfortable with his kids playing in the water as long as he was watching them, only allowing them to go so deep.

Just down the beach, several locals kept their distance from the water, telling News 8 they felt anxious just watching people, especially young kids, swimming. 

“It’s distressing because it’s a red flag then you should stay out of the water,” South Haven resident Ray Fuller said. 

Another South Haven resident, Stephen Daugherty, believes the city should do more to protect its tourists, whether it be beefing up education campaigns aimed at visitors or bringing back lifeguards. 

“We would dearly love to see a lifeguard program brought back,” Daugherty said. “We see it being very effective down in St. Joe. Whenever you look at the red flag days down in South Haven and St. Joe and you look at their beach cams, they’re completely free of people because they have guards down there.”

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